Opinion: Life beyond Earth is a near certainty

Hank Venetta

Hank Venetta

Hank Venetta is a senior english major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

There tends to be confusion when someone asserts the existence of extraterrestrials. Spacemen cruising around in vessels? Lightsaber battles? Tripods attacking Dakota Fanning with death rays? 

Obviously, pop culture is responsible for our immediate association of aliens as sophisticated and beyond the capabilities of mankind. This seems to neglect the reality of life’s simple origin.

Complexity does not just happen. Human life required unfathomable spans of time, trial and error. 

Most aliens are probably not too advanced yet. Planets, the platforms for life, formed 3 to 6 billion years ago, not so far back in our 13.5 billion-year-old universe. Let’s give the youthful space critters some time to breathe, so to speak.

The early 21st century is a welcome mat for incredible scientific breakthroughs. Discoveries of hundreds of new planets beyond the Milky Way are notable. Many of these planets resemble Earth in composition, temperature, atmosphere, size and other things.

Are these Earth-like planets all that surprising? Scientists expected them because they are equipped with statistical knowledge of the universe. Calculations show that we live in a world containing hundreds of billions of galaxies. And within these galaxies are billions of stars. Circling these suns are handfuls of planets. There are probably billions of Earth twins, or near-twins.

The study of alien life is known as astrobiology. It is a field new enough to be marked as a spelling error on my word document. Astrobiology exists because it is firmly built upon the exceedingly high probability of alien life forms. The universe would be an awful waste of space without extraterrestrials. 

From our perspective, Earth is a placid, orderly place. However, upon hitting the fast-forward button we can see it is vicious, explosive and random.

But not too much. On a planet resembling Earth, there’s enough chaos for chemical reactions that could generate primordial cells, and enough order to sustain them.

One may scoff by saying the production of life, a process called abiogenesis (also marked as a spelling error), is incomprehensibly unlikely; therefore Earth is the only inhabited sphere.

Well, imagine buying lotto tickets every week for a few billion years. Trust me, eventually you’ll hit the jackpot. Especially if you get to buy tickets from billions of other planets, too.

Although human existence is miraculous, life at our level was bound to evolve somewhere. The odds were in our favor. However, they are in favor of others as well.

Aristarchus, a Greek astronomer, held the shocking idea that Earth is not the center of the universe. This notion was repressed during the Dark Ages. We have become slightly more modest after Copernicus finally confirmed it. 

In the universe we are special, but the idea that we are central to its given purpose is constantly overthrown.

As always, mankind could use another dosage of humility. Undoubtedly, the universe is teeming with the breaths of exotic alien life, a reality that would make for some useful ego-reduction therapy. 

Whether or not the funding to find it will continue is the question that worries me.